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DoD Press Briefing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen from the Pentagon, Arlington, Va.

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
July 16, 2008
            SEC. GATES: Good afternoon.
 
            Today I'm pleased to announce that I have recommended to the president that he nominate Lieutenant General Craig McKinley, currently director of the Air National Guard, to be the new chief of the National Guard Bureau. In keeping with the recommendations of the Commission on the Guard and Reserves and the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, General McKinley will be nominated for a fourth star and rank of full general; a first for a National Guard officer.   
 
            General McKinley is well-qualified for this important and historic new assignment. He has held command positions at every level of the Air Force during his 34 years of military service. As director of the Air National Guard, General McKinley has been responsible for overseeing all policies, plans and programs affecting more than 104,000 Guard members in more than 88 flying units and 200 geographically separated units throughout the United States and its territories. Prior to assuming his current position, General McKinley served as assistant chief of staff for Plans and Programs at Air Force Headquarters.   
 
            He will replace Lieutenant General Steve Blum, who I am recommending that the president nominate to become the first Guard deputy commander of Northern Command, also a historic first. For more than five years, General Blum has been a dynamic and effective leader of America's National Guard community during a time of wrenching change for our citizen soldiers. As chief, he has been a tireless advocate for America's Guardsmen and women, to see that they receive the right training, equipment and support for the demanding range of missions the Guard has taken on since September 11th and will face in the years to come. 
 
            The elevation of the National Guard chief to four stars recognizes the enhanced importance of the Guard to America's overall national defense. In recent years, facilitated by General Blum's strong leadership, the National Guard has transformed from an often neglected strategic reserve to a force that is an indispensable component of the operational military. The elevation of this position also recognizes the vital role the chief will have as a bridge between the state and federal components of our government and the active and Reserve components of our military.  
 
            If confirmed, the elevation of General Blum to be the deputy commander of Northern Command is in keeping with the recommendations of the Punaro commission and the congressional requirement that either the commander or deputy commander of NORTHCOM be a Guard officer. It reflects the critical role the Guard plays in our homeland defense and the unique experience and expertise a Guard officer of General Blum's caliber will bring to this position. 
 
            In closing, I'd like to thank the Guardsmen and women of this country for all they do to protect their communities and this country.  
 
            Admiral Mullen? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, sir. 
 
            As many of you know, I visited Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan last week. For me, the trip was all about expectations -- expectations I had going over and new expectations I formed while I was there. 
 
            In Iraq, for example, I fully expected to find security conditions much improved, and they were. I did not expect, however, that those conditions would be at such a level that I could walk the Jamila market in Sadr City, or visit an outpost in what had recently been one of the most violent neighborhoods in Mosul, or that Iraqi security forces would now have the confidence and the command to take the lead as much as they are. 
 
            You may have seen, in fact, that just this morning provincial control of Qadisiyah was turned over to the Iraqi government, making it the 10th of 18 provinces to do so. 
 
            I won't go so far as to say that progress in Iraq, from a military perspective, has reached a tipping point, or it is irreversible. It has not, and it is not. But security is unquestionably and remarkably better. Indeed, if these trends continue, I expect to be able early in the fall to recommend to the secretary and to the president further troop reductions. 
 
            In Afghanistan, as I expected, the fight remains tough and complicated. One need look no further than the well-coordinated attack on the Wanat outpost this weekend to see that the enemy in Afghanistan has grown bolder, more sophisticated and more diverse. 
 
            My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed in the attack. And my best wishes go to those, American and Afghani (sic), who were wounded.   
 
            The bottom line is this. We're seeing a greater number of insurgents and foreign fighters flowing, across the border with Pakistan, unmolested and unhindered. This movement needs to stop. We simply must all do a better job, of policing the border region and eliminating the safe havens, which serve today as launching pads for attacks on coalition forces.   
 
            When I say all of us, I mean all of us: the military forces of NATO, the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We either find ways to work better together or we fail to secure a better future, for the people we've all pledged to protect. We can and must do better. That's my expectation and that was the message I conveyed to every leader, civilian and military alike, with whom I met.   
 
            One final note on Afghanistan, what I didn't expect, and that is the extent of the progress truly being made. I visited with the soldiers in a remote outpost of the Korangal Valley, not far from where this recent attack occurred. And I spoke with Marines based in the south.   
 
            To a person, they wanted me to know about and they showed me the positive changes they have helped bring about, the villages they can now enter, the Afghan police and forces they are training and trying to improve.   
 
            It's not perfect. Clearly we have a long way to go but we are making strides. We are forcing more contact with the enemy on our terms. And we are having a positive impact. Regardless of the difficulties ahead, and there will be difficulties, I fully expect to continue to make progress in Afghanistan.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, Admiral Mullen, you were just in Pakistan. Can you tell us how much of this increase in violence, do you believe, is related to Pakistan and what your message was to them, as to how much they need to do more?   
 
            And can you afford to wait, until next season or next year, to send more U.S. reinforcements to the commanders there, who have made it clear that they really believe they need more troops now?   
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I think the complexity, which we've talked about frequently in recent weeks, of the attacks was certainly represented in what happened in Wanat. And that is, it's a more sophisticated group.   
 
            They've been able to train in a safer environment in the safe havens in Pakistan. So that is -- it has become a significant contribution, and it's the freedom of movement across that border. 
 
            The increase in violence is tied certainly to that. It's also tied to what I said in my statement, which is -- which is we're generating a lot of increased contact. In particular, the Marines from the two battalions have as well. But the border there is a really critical issue that we're going to have to solve.  And certainly that's a message that I delivered to each of the leaders that I visited in Pakistan, and it has to be solved sooner rather than later. 
 
            Q     And the troops -- U.S. troops? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Clearly -- and I talked with all our leaders there, and they all indicated that, you know, they need more troops. That's -- that's not inconsistent with what I've said over a significant period of time. It really is, however, that combination of progress -- I mean, I didn't ask them about making progress. They sought me out to ensure that I understood they were making progress. It's a tougher fight. It's a more complex fight. And they need more troops to have the long-term impact that we all want to have there. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can you shed any light on the lessons learned or the conclusions from the investigation into the incident in Pakistan last month in which Frontier Corps soldiers were killed? I believe the investigation is complete. What conclusions have been drawn? What lessons can be learned? 
 
            SEC. GATES: If the investigation is complete, I haven't seen the results of it yet. So I don't know the answer to the question. 
 
            Q     Do you intend to send more forces in the near term to Afghanistan, either ground forces or air forces? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that we are clearly working very hard to see if there are opportunities to send additional forces sooner rather than later. No decisions have been made. No recommendations have been made. 
 
            We have -- Central Command commander, General Dempsey , as you know, has shifted the Lincoln, I think it is, to support -- provide additional support in Afghanistan. But there is -- there is clearly a need both for us to see what we can do to provide additional forces, but also they're clearly looking within Afghanistan to see how to reposition forces, for example, to take advantage of the French troops coming in and to backfill against the Marines in the south so that the gains that we've made there aren't lost. 
 
            Q     Or are you also considering unilateral cross-border operations? 
 
            SEC. GATES: We have not -- we will take defensive actions. We have taken defensive actions when fired upon from places right across the border. Generally that's been in counterartillery. And beyond that, I think I won't say. 
 
            Q     Admiral Mullen, you were -- weren't you nearby when this attack happened at Wanat? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: No. It was close -- it was not very far away from where I had been the day before, in the Korengal Valley, but it was not specifically -- I'm sorry, in Konar. I was in Korengal Valley. So it wasn't -- it didn't happen while I was there. 
 
            Q     Any time there's that kind of loss of life in an operation, questions come up about whether or not there was a failure of intelligence to detect the number of enemy fighters in the area, whether there was -- whether the U.S. and Afghan forces were not adequately supported. What do you think went wrong there? What happened? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: The details I've looked at is that it was a very -- you know, a very large group, several hundred insurgents. It was very well planned, a very sophisticated attack. And in fact, eight of the nine individuals who died all died basically in the same pot -- spot. It was at an outpost. And in fact, just given the ratios, which was several hundred to less than a hundred, in the end the outpost did not get overrun, and in fact the -- our forces repelled those who attacked them.   
 
            So we clearly -- as always the case, we look at lessons that we learn in something like this. But from my -- from what I can see right now is that they were well-trained, well-armed, and it was a significant -- it was a significant number and it was a very complex attack. 
 
            Q     But they weren't undermanned? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: No, not -- certainly, I mean, clearly for the number of insurgents that were there, yes, but that didn't -- for what they were doing and what they were supposed to do, in fact they were where they were supposed to be. And it was us and the Afghan forces. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary and Chairman Mullen, can you tie the two thoughts together of more troops for Afghanistan yet significant issues with the Pakistan border? Is it fair to say that no matter how many U.S troops you put in or coalition troops you put in Afghanistan, without some clarity or some solution to the border issue in Pakistan, it's not going to really reduce the level of violence in Afghanistan? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I wouldn't -- let me take a stab at it and then turn to Admiral Mullen. I wouldn't say that no matter how many troops you put in, it wouldn't make any difference. I think clearly it would make a significant difference if you had additional forces. 
 
            There is no question that the absence of pressure on the Pakistani side of the border is creating an opportunity for more people to cross the border and to launch attacks. There are efforts underway to try and improve that on both the Pakistani side and on the Afghan and coalition side in Afghanistan. But I think clearly, as the admiral said earlier, there is a real need to do something on the Pakistani side of the border to bring pressure to bear on the Taliban and some of these other violent groups. 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: What I would add to that, Tony, is that, you know, where I flew -- which was pretty close to the border -- and in discussions with the brigade commander who's been there for almost 15 months, it's very clear that additional troops will have a big impact on insurgents coming across that border. And I think that would be the case. 
 
            It would be much better, clearly, if there was that pressure on the Pakistani side than without it. But clearly, additional troops there would have a significant impact. And so if you -- to get to your question of would it make any difference no matter how many you put in there, absolutely, it would make a difference. 
 
            Q     One follow-up.  What leverage did the U.S. have with Pakistan over the last couple of months when we have forced them to increase the pressure?   Our military sales, promises of training them? What leverage do we have now? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, again, I'll start, since the admiral was just there. The reality is that Pakistan faces a security challenge of its own inside Pakistan from these groups. And I think one of the things that is really important is the civilian government gaining a full appreciation of the magnitude and reality of the danger to them posed by these groups and the lack of control or the lack of pressure in the FATA and in the Northwest Province.   
 
            And so it seems to me the first thing is for the Pakistanis to have a clear understanding of what's happening. We can make a contribution there. And then -- and we -- as I've said before, we are ready, willing and able to help them in any way we can. 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I actually think it's less of that leverage than it is about continuing to engage them, desire to have them be a long-term partner, sharing with them an understanding of the threat, specifically.  
 
            I mean, we see this threat accelerating. And we see it almost becoming a syndicate of different groups who heretofore had not worked closely together. And in my engagement with the leadership in Pakistan when I was there, is they all acknowledged that, and that really was the message, but I think we have to stay engaged with them. 
 
            SEC. GATES: I mean, just an example, the number of attacks inside Pakistan has, I recall, doubled over about the past year. So -- 
 
            Q     One question for each of you, if I might. 
 
            Mr. Secretary, President Bush said in his news conference at the White House yesterday, quote, "We are surging troops in Afghanistan." Is that true? And if so, where are we surging them? How is that surge unfolding? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that what the president clearly was talking about was the fact that we've sent some 3,500 Marines there. We sent them in the spring. They will come home in November. And that has represented a significant contribution and addition to our capabilities in Afghanistan, if only for the current fighting season. 
 
            They have gone into areas in the south where coalition forces and government forces have not been in a long time. And one of the reasons, sadly, that we have suffered so many casualties is that they are engaged in heavy fighting in areas where we have not been engaged before. So I think that's the surge that the president was talking about. 
 
            But I would go back also to the beginning of last year, because at the beginning of last year one of my first acts was to extend the brigade of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan, and then we added another brigade in Afghanistan. You've also seen the Germans and the French up the ante in terms of the number of troops that they are sending. Those troops are going to be flowing from now forward. So I think that there is an effort to bring a number of additional forces to bear. 
 
            I -- 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Yes, sir. 
 
            Q     One question for the admiral, if I might. Have you gained anything from continuing analysis of the Iranian missile tests that took place last week, and specifically with regards to whether or not the Iranian regime was propagating false images -- spurious images of the tests and so forth and -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: You mean photoshopping their test results? (Laughter.)  
 
            Q     That might be a technical term with which I'm not familiar, sir. (Laughter.) But -- 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I actually have not. In terms -- that happened, I was obviously familiar with it, saw it when I was gone last week. I haven't really -- haven't really seen any detailed analysis. 
 
            Not insignificant tests. Clearly an indication of moving -- you know, capability which is moving forward. It's also not the first time they've tested missiles. Not just -- I mean, in that part of the world -- and certainly, you know, in the long run it could be -- it can lead to development of a more capable system. But I -- I just haven't looked at the other pieces. 
 
            SEC. GATES: They clearly are interested and are working to develop missiles of greater and greater range. They themselves announced that the Shahab 3 had flown 2,000 kilometers. We don't think it flew that far. But that's where they're headed with that missile. They have other missiles that they're developing that will have even greater range. And this is not a threat that's 10 or 15 or 20 years out; this is a threat over the next few years. 
 
            Peter. 
 
            Q     Sir, getting back to Afghanistan. You mentioned in answer to David's question that you're looking at ways to get more troops there sooner rather than later. The accepted wisdom in this building has been that is undoable until troops in Iraq come down. In the past the only way to do that was either breaching dwell or extending troop tours. Are those under consideration? Or Admiral Mullen, you mentioned in your opening that there's thoughts about maybe drawing down in Iraq this fall in greater numbers, perhaps, that you'd like to recommend that this fall. Is that what's being looked at? I mean, how are you going to find those troops? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think we're looking at a variety of options on how to respond here. I will tell you that I have sought assurances that there will be no return to longer than 12-month deployments. So that's not something we're considering. And I'm not aware of any plans to extend anybody beyond the extensions that have already taken place 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I mean, Peter, this gets into planning and constantly looking at options, and obviously, we do that. We do that on an ongoing basis, and we're constantly assessing the conditions on the ground and those recommendations. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- the only thing publicly, I think, that's been said on this is General Petraeus last month, month before, said he thought in the fall he could draw down a bit more than we thought before. He suggested it was below-brigade-size numbers. I'm wondering if your analysis now, having gotten back from there, may constitute a brigade-size or even larger drawdown in the fall. 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: We're in -- I mean we really -- we're in the middle of both assessing and looking at what the possibilities could be, without going into any kind of detailed explanation right now. That really is in the planning and options phase more than anything else. 
 
            Q     General Mullen, you said that you were impressed with what the -- excuse me, the -- yeah, the Afghan security forces have been able to do as much as they are. Can you qualify or quantify "as much as they are" and sort of the extent of that? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: The Afghan or Iraqi? 
 
            Q     The Iraqi troops.  
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Well, when I went to -- specifically when I went to Mosul and spent some time -- significant amount of time, actually, with a three-star general there who leads the Iraqi forces up north, and he has had a significant impact and he has been -- they have been leading up north for many, many weeks right now. And what I found was a confidence in him, his own confidence, his troop confidence, spent time with a young company commander that's been in command for the better part of three years, who took the toughest part of Mosul. And I saw their own self-confidence, which was pretty significant. Discussions I had with what happened in Sadr City, clearly the Iraqi security forces were not in the lead in that, but they were very much involved in that. Also discussions I had with what they're doing in Basra right now. 
 
            So all of that adds up, I think, to a much more confident force, a much more capable force, and it's continuing to really grow in that regard. And our leaders are the ones that are telling me this. It's not just coming from the Iraqis. 
 
            Q     Are they -- are they -- meet sort of that threshold for the period of review? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: The period of review for -- you mean this fall? 
 
            Q     The 45-day period of review. 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Well, clearly, they will certainly be -- a part of the evaluation of how we can move forward is how much security they can provide not just now but in the future. 
 
            Q     I wanted to go back to Pakistan. Until now, the Pakistanis really haven't done -- haven't shown any inclination to cooperate further. In your meetings with them, did they give you any promises or assurances that they would do more -- specifically, send troops back into the tribal areas? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Actually, the meetings themselves were private and those discussions were private. It's just that -- and I've talked about the message, clearly, the concern that we have with respect to the level of the threat, the acknowledgement that -- they acknowledge that threat internal to them as well as the concern we have for the lack of pressure on that border and the need to really figure out a way, with the Afghans and our coalition forces, to secure that border. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary -- 
 
            Q     This is both to Mr. Secretary and Admiral Mullen. You talked about efforts to try to get the Pakistanis to do more and they haven't. The fact is, as you said, more militants are crossing to Afghanistan and they're killing more U.S. troops. So the question is what do we do, if they're not going to step up to the plate? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well actually, there have been a couple of Pakistani operations in the border area just in the last couple of weeks. So they have taken some steps. They have identified the problems, I think. And where they see an opportunity, they have in fact taken military action. And our hope, obviously, is that those efforts will intensify. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, both the candidates, Senator Obama and Senator McCain both are saying that they will bring Osama bin Laden to justice. They will catch him if they become president. And second, are you -- how much are you worried about the situation on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? And what are you recommending to the president after, Mr. Chairman, you have come back from -- (inaudible) -- report? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Go ahead. 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I think we'd all like to catch Osama bin Laden. Clearly, the focus there continues to be incredibly important.   
 
            I actually -- I visited the new border coordination center up at Torkham Gate. In fact, the Afghans are manning it now. The Pak military officers have visited and will be -- will be manning that within a week or two. There was actually a very positive meeting with coalition forces, Afghan forces and Pak forces on how to move forward on that border, how to specifically mark it so we know exactly where the border is, the location points are. So there's an awful lot of -- there is an effort going on to really get control of that. 
 
            That said, clearly the pressure on the back side of that, if you're in Afghanistan -- the Pakistan side of that is going to be needed.  
 
            And there's an awful lot of focus on trying to get that right for the future. We need to. 
 
            Q     I have one question about the situation at Wanat. You have described that incident, the attack being repelled. Why, then, have the American soldiers either decided to retreat or abandon that outpost? 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: In fact that's a decision that's made up by the tactical commander on the ground. I really stay out of second-guessing anything that they do specifically. That's a judgment made for the situation that's there. And my baseline assumption there is that the tactical commander knows what he's doing and it's the best move to make at this time. 
 
            Q     Others have suggested the situation on the border has deteriorated to the point of almost being an Afghani-Pakistani war. What do you think? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that's an exaggeration. 
 
            Q     I'd like to get your reaction, from both of you, to reports in the Pakistani media and the London Times that American forces are massing in one of the provinces in eastern Afghanistan for imminent strikes into -- across the border into Pakistan – I want to see if there’s any credence to that. And also, sir, Admiral Mullen, the Pakistani media is saying that in your meetings with leaders in Pakistan, you conveyed the message that if the Pakistanis did not step up their efforts, the U.S. would take imminent action along the border. 
 
            SEC GATES: The notion that U.S. forces are massing on the Pakistani border to go into Pakistan is untrue.   
 
            ADM. MULLEN: I've seen the reports and I disagreed with what I saw, in the first report about what happened in the meetings, and the subsequent report I think I saw today get picked up, as I recall, I think out of London. And I just disagree with what it said originally. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Last question. 
 
            Q     You opened up with a couple of promotions. Yesterday Colonel H.R. McMaster was nominated for his first star, after having been passed over a couple of times. That was just a bare-bones list. Do you care to elaborate on what this means, if anything? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Probably not. (Laughs.) (Laughter.) 
 
            ADM. MULLEN: Let me -- actually, the one thing I would take some issue with is that he's, quote-unquote, "been passed over." I come from a position when you get selected for admiral or general, you go into the zone and it's an enormously small percentage that get picked. And actually, as years in the service, I think he's either got 23 or 24, having been selected a couple years after that myself, I'm not sure that he's not more junior than many people think. 
 
            Delighted with his selection, and I think it says an awful lot about where we are, the kind of fights that we're in and the kind of focus that we need.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you all very much.
 
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